As we start new future, we must agree on facts

Condensed from my original column published Sunday, Jan. 17, in the Arizona Daily Star, which you can find here.

I’d originally planned this week to pen a column about how British TV can save your mental health while you endure pandemic isolation as local officials write memos about how they’re trying to launch a mass vaccination campaign.

But then we had an insurrection and, while drinking tea and eating crumpets is always a fine idea, it won’t dig us out of the basement of filth we’ve fallen into. Neither, I submit, will the now-popular calls for “unity” in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on our government.

No, the only thing that will get us out of this mess is commitment to truth with a capital T. Without that, I fear unity may be a false hope.

We can all probably agree that a mob assault on the seat of national government that included a half-naked, face-painted man in a fur-lined Viking helmet is a definitive low point for a democratic republic.

What I’m not sure we’ll agree on is who is at fault and who should take responsibility. So, let’s start there, with the First Truth: President Trump is, was and remains the primary reason thousands of mostly white, predominantly male persons stormed the Capitol. Period.

This assault was not a direct reaction to his speech at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally, but rather a consequence of his near daily incessant lying and masterful manipulation of social media for the past four years. Trump worked tirelessly to brainwash people into believing he was the only person they could trust.

His biggest lie was that of a “stolen” presidential election, a grievance he hammered on for nearly an hour during his rally, right up until he encouraged attendees to march on the Capitol to shore up “weak” Republicans so they would overturn Joe Biden’s election as our 46th president.

The Second Truth we must accept is that the dangerous miscreants were abetted by power-hungry establishment Republicans refusing to stand up to a “leader” for four years, as well as newer, more extreme look-at-me GOP posers.

The Third Truth is that what has happened to our country is not polarization. The correct phrase is “a decades-long, premeditated, choreographed radicalization of the country’s conservatives.” This move to the extreme right has been accelerated by the hosts of “Fox and Friends,” Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart and others who present opinion – and more importantly, conspiracy – as fact.

Trump and Co.’s manipulation was so deep and wide that I fear his supporters cannot even begin to comprehend they may have been wrong to support him, much less admit that.

Which brings us to the final and Fourth Truth, which is that we must stop this exercise of trying to “understand the Trump voter.” If we are committed to democracy, especially after what we witnessed Jan. 6, we must admit this is no longer an “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” philosophy class discussion.

No, this is a right-versus-wrong, democracy-versus-fascism, facts-versus-manipulation discussion with people on the side of verifiable facts and science versus people who have set aside their good sense to believe whatever nonsense the fringes spout. (And here I include far-left folks who believe the COVID-19 vaccine implants a tracking device in our arms.)

Before the 1980s, we had three TV networks airing the nightly news, a local newspaper in every driveway and virtually nonexistent rage-talk radio. This news environment provided a common reality for our country. That world no longer exists, and it just takes a click of a remote or computer mouse to find someone spouting what you already believe, which is so much easier than doing pesky fact-checks.

Our country cannot survive if we stay divided, yet it is impossible to have unity if we do not agree on basic facts. So how do we get to that point? I think the answer might be in replicating a common news diet for ourselves.

So, I’d like to offer a challenge to all my readers, liberal and conservative alike: A six-week fast from cable TV news (CNN, MSNBC and FOX), talk radio and any news shared on social media. (Just scroll past it! Look for baby elephants and toddlers learning to walk!)

During that time, you’ll read only your local newspaper (online or in print) and watch only one hour-long nightly newscast from either ABC, NBC, CBS or PBS. I know I’m asking you to trust me that this experience will be worth it, but I’m hoping you’ll take this leap of faith nonetheless. At the end of February, I’ll host a Zoom chat where we can discuss our experience.

This experiment won’t be easy (breaking habits rarely is) and the virtual chat probably won’t be perfect, but it might just be a first step toward the call for unity. If interested in participating – and I hope you are – please email me at rshorton08 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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